Poltergeist, Norwegian style

A Viking grave has been discovered under the floor of a private home in Bodø, central Norway. The Kristensens were renovating the family home and pulled the floorboards to install new insulation under the bedroom floor. After digging up a layer of sand and the stone rubble underneath that, something shiny caught their eye. At first they thought the small dark circular object might be the wheel from an old toy. A little more digging turned up a heavily corroded iron axe and a few other iron pieces.

At this point Mariann Kristensen contacted Nordland County officials and they dispatched archaeologists from the Tromsø Museum to investigate the finds. The bead, axe and other objects appear to date to the early Middle Ages, around 950-1050 A.D. They have been transferred to the museum for study and conservation.

Archaeologists have begun a larger excavation of the find site; ie, under the Kristensens’ house. County archaeologist Martinus Hauglid thinks it’s most likely a grave from the Iron Age or Viking Age. The stones the Kristensens found under the sand layer are probably part of a burial cairn.

[Hauglid] said he had never heard of a find being made underneath a house.

“I never heard of anything like that and I’ve been in business for nearly 30 years,” he said. “They did a magificent job, they reported it to use as soon as they got the suspicion that it actually was something old.

The house had been in the family since it was built by Mariann’s great-grandfather in 1914. There is no family legend of Vikings in eternal slumber under the bedroom floor.

Roman-era game pieces, rare die found in burial cairn in Norway

A rare group of Roman Iron Age game pieces and an elongated die have been discovered in a burial cairn at Ytre Fosse in Western Norway. University Museum of Bergen archaeologists excavated the site overlooking the Alverstraumen strait, an area known for its copious burial mounds, in advance of development and uncovered an Early Iron Age grave.

Underneath a top layer of turf removed by a mechanical digger, the team discovered a circle of stones around black soil indicating burning in situ. The burn layer contained bone fragments and charcoal from a cremation pyre. Artifacts were added to the grave after the fire had consumed the body: three ceramic pots, a bronze pin, burned glass, 18 game pieces and one long rectangular die, also known as an oblong or stick die.

The gaming pieces are made of bone and in relatively good condition with 13 intact and only five broken. The die, also made of bone, was broken in two pieces. On three of its long sides the numbers are in the form of circles with a dot in the middle representing rolls of three, four and six. One side is blank for a roll of nada. These types of dice are exceedingly rare in Norway. Fewer than 15 of them are known.

The dice is of a very rare type, exclusive for Roman Iron Age (AD 1 – 400). In Scandinavia, similar dices are found in the famous Vimose weapon-offering site at Fyn, Denmark. At Vimose also the gaming board was preserved, giving a unique view into Early Iron Age board games among the Germanic tribes in Scandinavia. Board games, inspired by the Roman game Ludus latrunculorum, seems to have been played amongst the elite in Roman Iron Age Scandinavia. These games are also the forerunner to the more famous Viking Age (AD 750-1050) board game Hnefatafl.

The results from the Ytre Fosse excavation will undoubtedly contribute with more precise data on the chronology of dices and gaming pieces in Early Iron Age Norway and the significance and social impact of gaming  during these times.

The high-status game gear is evidence that the deceased was someone of significant power and wealth in the area. The Alverstraumen strait was an important trade route transporting goods to and from the continent. Anyone who controlled the shipping lane raked in money from taxes, duties and fees and had access to luxury items like this Roman gaming set.

The objects and remains have been recovered from the grave and will be stabilized and studied at a conservation lab in Bergen. There are no current plans for the game pieces to go on display, but that is the ultimate goal.

Dump truck delivers topsoil, 9th c. Anglo-Saxon silver brooch

A rare Anglo-Saxon brooch that was once part of the most unwittingly valuable dump truck full of a topsoil is on its way to being declared treasure. It was discovered by a novice metal detectorist in a field near Swaffham, Norfolk, on May 9th, 2019. Numbers that should forever be his lotto picks, because it was literally the third time he’d ever gone metal detecting. He had no idea what he’d found, at first thinking it was Victorian. He reported his lucky strike to the local finds liaison for the Portable Antiquities Scheme who identified it as an Anglo-Saxon silver disc brooch in Trewhiddle style dating to the mid- to late 9th century.

The brooch is made of silver with niello inlay. It is three inches in diameter and is complete with the pin mechanism on the back. The front features a central cross with concave arms over a saltire of open-work tongue-shaped lobes. Inside the lobes of the saltire are what appear to be three stacked pots with large, round flowers growing out of the top and bottom pots. The spaces between the saltire and the arms of the cross are decorated with zoomorphic figures typical of the Trewhiddle style. Around the edges of the disc are swirling foliar designs. Five domed bosses are riveted on the arms and center of the cross.

The Norfolk County Council dispatched archaeologists to the find site to excavate it. Beneath the layer where the brooch was found, the team unearthed a 19th century plough, so they knew the brooch was likely deposited on the field rather than having slumbered there for centuries. The landowner confirmed he had recently had a load of soil dumped on the field, but he didn’t know where it came from having simply “flagged down” a truck.

Topsoil deliveries usually don’t range far afield so the soil was almost certainly local, and this would not be the first time exceptional Anglo-Saxon brooches were found in the environs. The Pentney Hoard which includes six open-work silver disc brooches in Trewhiddle style, was discovered by a gravedigger in a churchyard not 10 miles away in 1978. The swirled foliar border, cross, saltire and bosses of the newly-discovered brooch are very similar to one in the Pentney Hoard, only in even better condition. Norfolk County Council’s senior finds archaeologist Steven Ashley believes the pieces were made by the same hand, or at least the same workshop.

The coroner’s inquest to determine the brooch treasure status has been opened. It is scheduled to close on June 9th, and it’s pretty much a given that the brooch will be officially declared treasure.

Mammoth graveyard found in Mexico

Mammoth remains excavated at Xaltocan. Photo courtesy INAH.The remains of more than 60 Columbian mammoths have been unearthed in Xaltocan, Mexico. There are adult males and females as well as young specimens. They likely died after getting stuck in the mud of an ancient lake or the swampy terrain left in its wake once it dried up.

The mammoth bones were found 12 miles from Tultepec where in a global first, a mammoth hunting trap deliberately set by humans was discovered. There is no evidence of human hunting, although it’s possibly people took advantage of the opportunity to take down a giant while it was stuck in the mud. So far no evidence of butchering has been found on the bones either.

The bones of other Pleistocene animals, including bison and camel, were also found there. The hundreds of bones recovered from the site are currently being stabilized, analyzed and classified. When that work is done, we’ll have a more precise figure for the total number of mammoths and other megafauna. Researchers will also investigate their ages at time of death, diets and any injuries and diseases.

National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) archaeologists began surveying the former Santa Lucía Military Air Base, site of the future General Felipe Angeles International Airport, in October 2019 to salvage any archaeological and paleontological materials before construction. They opened 23 trenches on the land; osteological remains were found in three of them. In the pit closest to what was once the shore of Lake Xaltocan, the osteological remains are in much better condition that the ones found where the prehistoric lake was deepest.

Human remains were also discovered at the Xaltocan dig, but they were far more recent, dating to the pre-Hispanic period. About 15 individual burials were found. Some of them were interred with grave goods including pots, bowls and clay figurines. The ceramic types indicate the burials date to the Postclassic period (950-1521 A.D.).

These finds will not prevent the construction of the new airport, but there is a proposal under consideration to create a museum that would be integrated into the airport complex.

Neolithic crouch burial found in Brandenburg

The skeleton of a woman buried in a crouched position has been discovered in Uckermark, northeastern Germany. Archaeologists with the Brandenburg State Office for the Preservation of Monuments were excavating the site of a new wind turbine when they discovered the crouch burial.

She had been placed on her right side, her knees bent to her chest, her head facing north. Her grave was not in a burial ground, but rather next to a settlement. No grave goods have survived. The exact date of the burial has not been established yet, but archaeologists believe she was buried between 2,200 and 2,500 B.C., the late Neolithic period.

“I’ve never made a find like this before,” [archaeologist Philipp] Roskoschinski, who owns the archaeological firm Archaeros, told the Tagesspiegel newspaper.

He and his colleague believe that this indicates the woman was purposefully positioned this way and was not simply put in the grave.

Researchers are now carrying out tests to get a better idea of how old the skeleton is as well as how the woman died.

“Unfortunately, there were no other finds in the grave that could tell us more about the woman’s life,” Roskoschinski told Tagesspiegel newspaper. “But the site was lovingly surrounded by fieldstones.”